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Hidden Gems - Hot Date

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Have you ever watched a show that was so good, you couldn’t wait to talk about it to everyone and everything you come across? Have you ever promptly discovered that absolutely no one else has ever heard of that show, meaning that you, at best, are having to sell your friends and family on something they have no idea about, and at worst end up yelling your feelings into the void? And even if your excited ramblings about your new discovery do happen to find an audience, now this show isn’t just your obsession, but your responsibility, and if you undersell it, none of your friends will watch it, and how do you describe every reason you like it while keeping their own sense of discovery for it intact?

This is a long-winded way of saying that my TV love language is sharing little-known shows I’ve liked with as many people as possible and spreading the news of a good show as far as I can. From that idea comes Hidden Gems: my own little spotlight on some of my favorite underdogs, under-the-radars and underperformers. This, internet, is my gift to you.

Hot Date / PopTV

Like many smaller cable channels, PopTV is essentially synonymous with its most popular property, the charming Dan and Eugene Levy sitcom “Schitt’s Creek.” Fans of that show would emphasize that it flew completely under the cultural radar before its sudden, flashy debut in the mainstream within the past few years. However, there is another PopTV comedy that has been similarly and unjustly overlooked, and which deserves its time in the sun.

Emily Axford, Brian Murphy and Adam Conover in
Adam Ruins Everything / truTV
“Hot Date” creators Emily Axford and Brian Murphy have made a name for themselves playing couples. A lot of people might recognize them for frequently playing a couple on truTV’s “Adam Ruins Everything,” or for playing a couple in College Humor sketches. But they don’t just play one on TV: the pair are (get this:) also a couple in real life.

Considering all that, “Hot Date” takes the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” model and jacks it up to 11: in it, Axford and Murphy play Em and Murph, semi-fictionalized versions of themselves and the wine-drunk, narcissistic Lucy and Ricky of the 21st century. The pair also play Bridget and Bryce, a self-absorbed influencer and her middle-aged tech billionaire sugar daddy. Additionally, Murphy plays Creighton, a Lyft driver with no boundaries who interrupts rides to deal with his girlfriend Elyzabeth (played by Axford), and Axford plays Loretta, the overbearing single mother to teenage commitment-phobe Kyle (played by Murphy). So on and so forth; I think you get the picture.

As you’ve no doubt guessed by now, the cornerstone of “Hot Date” is the fact that Axford and Murphy play almost every role. Showing off their impressive range of impressions and comedic ability, the various characters the couple portray perfectly capture every millennial stereotype under the sun, and then some. It’s “SNL,” but with only 2 cast members, and if every sketch were about dating, and notably, much less hit-and-miss with the quality of comedy as “SNL” has become in recent years. So...maybe it’s not like “SNL” at all. But it is hilarious.

The first season of "Hot Date" aired on PopTV in 2017, and the second just recently aired from September - October 2019. Vaguely based on the web series of the same name Axford and Murphy made while working at CollegeHumor, the show’s title comes from the fact that every episode of the original series featured Murphy and Axford sitting at a table at a nice restaurant on a date. However, the TV adaptation is much more open, with each episode separated into several vignettes, all focusing on a certain premise with a wide amount of possible interpretations.

For example; the first episode sees all of its characters getting into some kind of trouble involving previous relationships. The first scene features Murph and Em getting into an argument about whether or not you should keep things you got from your exes.

“I have a whole box of stuff from exes.”
“I thought that was an Xbox!”

The two then walk to a bar, where they pass Beth and Seth, a long-married couple trying to relive the thrill of earlier days. Then Murph sees that his ex, Bridget, is at a bar a few blocks away, and tries to go and meet her to prove to Emily that it’s weird to stay in contact with your exes after you’ve broken up. Bridget, meanwhile, has just broken up with Brad, a long-haired, soft spoken hipster, and meets with Murph only to give him the motherlode of mixed signals; trying to kiss him and then immediately taking Brad back when he shows up, punches Murph in the face, and apologizes to her - only to break up with him again when she discovers his intense devotion to Renaissance Faire.

Emily Axford and Brian Murphy in Hot Date / PopTV
Em goes home after she realizes the ex she’s been texting has been looking for a booty call, and Murph meets back up with her after getting punched in the face by Brad. Em tries to confront Bridget about hitting on Murph, but gets drawn inside Bridget’s apartment when she finds out that the episode of “Bachelorette: Rebound” she had been watching (another bit interwoven in the episode in which Axford is the conflicted bachelorette and Murphy is the overenthusiastic, overtanned host) was about to give out the final rose.

It’s a totally complete story with various interweaving plotlines, about a dozen main characters, and just 2 lead actors.

If that sounds complex, I can assure you; it doesn’t play that way. The plots are deeply thought out and planned, but are still easy and fun to watch. And just think; every episode of Hot Date is this intricate, with clever connections and match-cuts to weave together all the varying storylines in a way both entertaining and impressive. And while that first episode is definitely great, it is still not even the funniest, nor the most impressively put together of the show's 20 episodes.

A lot of comedy nowadays relies on its ability to be “relatable.” One of the easiest ways to get a laugh is through self-awareness, but in a world where everyone is trying to be relatable, very few hit the mark. “Hot Date” makes a smart choice by not shooting for direct “relatability” - comedy through honest reflections of ourselves - but instead reflecting maybe less nuanced but much funnier stereotypes of other people. We’ve all met a “Bridget,” and if we haven’t, Axford and Murphy’s writing still lets us feel like we have. As Em discovers in season 2’s “Wedding Planning,” the best way to win people over is to talk s--t about other people!

I could go on about the hilarious side characters Axford and Murphy play (and there are a ton), or about the charming supporting cast, especially Travis Turner and Tien Tran, who recur as Mike and Laura, Murph and Em’s goody-two-shoes health-nut friends. But I wanted to focus this recommendation/review (reviewcommendation?) on the characters of Murph and Emily, because as funny as all the recurring bits are, I find their story without fail the funniest and most interesting. This is possibly because Axford and Murphy often draw on their own life experiences for plot points; for example, the season 1 episode “On Again, Off Again” sees Murph and Em get into a fight after she betrays him during game night, which, according to the couple, was based on an actual fight they got into over a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

Emily Axford and Brian Murphy in Hot Date / PopTV
Murph and Em’s characters also perpetuate the aforementioned “best way to win you over" rule. While their characters are supposed to be, in a way, the audience's surrogate, in another way they’re actually more than that; while recurring characters like Bridget and Bryce are meant to make you think of that one couple, Murph and Em are a heightened, slightly despicable amalgamation of the average.

“Technically I'm not a sociopath,” Emily says in a season 2 episode,
“We’re narcissists at worst!” Murph finishes.

Let’s put it this way: Murph and Emily are every couple, but every couple still gets to revel in the fact that they’re not quite as bad as Murph and Emily. It’s all simple enough to watch, but difficult to execute as endearingly and hilariously as the “Hot Date” crew have managed.

And even after all that, I still haven’t mentioned the rocking theme music, the fun guest stars including Ben Schwartz, Will Arnett (who also produces the series), Randall Park and Margaret Cho (to name a few), or the wealth of inspired and absolutely hilarious situations Axford and Murphy have written up. Take, for example, when a pregnant Bridget attempts to stop herself from going into labor so that her baby won’t be born a Saggitarius. Or when two pop stars coming out of a relationship release thinly veiled break-up songs about one another, or when Murph and Em decide to host a potluck in an attempt to get free food from their friends (shown in the clip below).

Whatever your relationship status, “Hot Date” will hit a chord for you. Even someone like myself - perpetually single - can get behind the creative premise, honest jokes, and over-the-top characters, and those in an established relationship have even more to laugh at. Both seasons are just 10 30-minute episodes, and season 1 is even available on Netflix (season 2 is available online for purchase, or with a PopTV cable subscription). Check it out! I’d love to see this gem be a little less hidden.

Once you’ve given it a try (or if you already have!), talk to me about it down in the comments! And what do you think of this new column? Do you have any hidden gem shows you’ve been itching to share with the world? Let me know!

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